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Running vanilla Windows 98 in 2020 and beyond...


Wunderbar98
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Hi UCyborg, thanks for the video link. Never heard that song before, very entertaining. Always late for the party, CRTs and all this good old stuff still seem modern to me :)

---
I don't have digital
I don't have diddly squat
It's not having what you want
It's wanting what you've got
I'm gonna soak up the sun

- Sheryl Crow (Soak Up The Sun)
---

Running lean is important to me for a snappy system. The usual way: lean software, minimal startup items and running processes.
- Ctrl-Alt-Delete for obvious stuff
- Start menu -> Programs -> StartUp
- Search 'regedit' for run and runonce
- Check 'msconfig' information
- 3rd party (eg. CCleaner v2.29.1111 -> Tools -> Startup)

Process Explorer v8.52 is launched at startup then minimized to system tray, where it displays a nice CPU usage graph with quick access to running processes. An unknown process to me, not flagged by other methods, is C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM\MMTASK.TSK (2 KB). This is from Microsoft, description 'Multimedia background task support module'. Killing this process, system sounds and MPlayer work fine but MIDI files now fail. So i will keep the process, it has trivial overhead and is useful.

Warning, killing MMTASK.TSK resulted in MIDI playback failure even on reboot. Attempting to play MIDI from the file's Properties -> Preview resulted in the vague popup error 'MMSYSTEM001 Undefined external error'. No problem, a DOS reboot using my trusty friend 'scanreg/restore' will fix - NOT. The fix was actually easy after wasted time. Seems killing then resuming the process changed some sound settings. Control Panel -> Multimedia -> MIDI tab, changing 'single instrument' from the new default 'A: SB Live! MIDI Synth' to 'Microsoft GS Wavetable SW Synth' fixed the issue.

Lesson learned, Windows 98 may not always handle killing processes gracefully.

This put the fear in me for this beloved Windows 98 (Super Edition) install. To guard against potential future registry issues the C:\WINDOWS\SCANREG.INI entry for MaxBackupCopies was increased from 5 to 10. Trivial extra drive space is used and it may save your system from a catastrophic failure and Windows reinstall. Plus i will continue to regularly back up to other media all C:\WINDOWS\SYSBCKUP\rb00*.cab files and periodically the entire Windows install.

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For the startup stuff I was succesfully using CodeStuff Starter on both 98SE and XP. One minor problem is that the latest version (something ending in .29) had a faulty installer that wouldn't run on 98SE, but the zip version was fine - just unpack somewhere and run the exe. No need for msconfig or others.

 

For some reason my 98SE machine seems to botch the registry upon every shutdown after upgrading the memory to 768MB a while ago. I did use a patched vxd (forgot its name) that was supposed to take care of the memory excess, and indeed the system only "sees" 512MB, but there must be something else to it. Didn't get a chance to try late Mr. Loew's patch, guess with age I lost my edge and am too afraid of screwing up badly. Therefore upon each new boot I have to restore the registry through the scanreg /restore you mentioned. Wasn't aware - or probably forgot along with too many other things - about the backup limit; will try to type that down and hopefully remember to apply it next time I start that machine. Thanks for the tip!

 

One funny fact: after some random upgrade quite some time ago my Linux Mint system reports to Wine a whopping amount of 6GB of RAM instead of the physical 4GB. The native tools do report the correct amount but my AHK script MemPanel stubbornly says 6. Kinda like the "modern" chinese temperature samplers built into various appliances (usually desktop digital clocks): the one built by myself more than a decade ago shows 16.5°C, an AKAI clock-thermometer-radio-bluetooth speaker half meter away shows 18°C and a random clock 2cm left of the AKAI shows 20°C. All at the same vertical level (actually mine is about 10cm higher). No heat source in the vicinity. Go figure placebo: if they say it's 20°C then it must be! Makes one think deeper...

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Thanks for the heads up. Indeed there's a 2.1GB swap file on the root partition. Problem is, it's always been there, but at first install and about a year or more after that the amount was being displayed correctly. Something changed in Wine between v4.0 and v5.14. Here's a screenshot of the very same application (my own MemPanel) running simultaneusly in Wine 4.0, 5.14 and 6.0 (4.0 and 6.0 are under PlayOnLinux, 5.14 is default on the system). Amazingly, even the total system load (left of bottom progressbar) appears much higher than normal. Native Mint applet shows a 1.67GB RAM usage out of 4GB. Whadda...?!

1925744650_Screenshotfrom2021-04-1311-48-13.png.461ade9e73d307013c68f8be1e33b356.png

Anyway, this is way off-topic here. Thanks again.

Edited by Drugwash
bad screenshot + fixed typo
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Hi Drugwash, thanks for your input as always. Codestuff Starter is also very nice. Can't remember the version i trialed, my Windows 98 machine hasn't been available for a few days. I've used Wine a few times on my GNU/Linux systems, came in handy a couple years to complete tax returns. Otherwise i always prefer to run code natively on the target system. Thermometers in this house are off too by about one degree celcius, even at same level of the house.

Don't know much about 'modern' computers, recently purchased a used Dell Vostro 230 for $25 CDN, not much more than a couple Big Mac meals. Build date 2011, dual core 3+ GHz, 64-bit, 3 GB RAM. Most powerful computer in the house now. None of my old hardware is compatible, it uses SATA, and everything is much newer. It now dual boots Windows XP and the latest Devuan Beowulf nicely. Dell still provides the Windows XP drivers. Don't think it would run Windows 98, never tried.

Refurbished the tower. The previous owner kept it pretty clean but i still removed the motherboard to clean underneath, opened up and cleaned the power supply, removed and cleaned behind the front cover (traps lots of dust), etc. Only issue was the DVD drive failed to open, fixed by gently cleaning the rubber belt with alcohol. Apparently a common problem, lots of information online. This can be performed without dismantling the drive using angled tweezers or a dental pick.

My brain shifted to CD/DVD drives, this house has 11 drives! What the heck, they will never get used up. Some CD only, some CD/DVD, some read-only, some burn. One is labelled 'Query broken' from a previous used hardware pickup. Dismantled and rebuilt what appeared to be the worst condition drive, Pioneer DVD-ROM. Never took a drive apart to this degree before, parts everywhere, lots of fun. Covers, gears and pulleys removed, etc. The belt on this drive was refurbished with glycerin, looks like new again and works like a champ. The original problem actually was that the drive wouldn't stay closed to read a disc. Upon further inspection, this was because the laser assembly was unable to fully pivot into position, so the disc wouldn't fully load, then the drive would eject it. Lots of old grease removal, added some oil, lots of cleaning. The mechanism works smoothly again and the drive runs like new.

Most people can't be bothered to fix this stuff. To me if it's a hobby then it's not work. Some have the philosophy that their time is more important and what's the big deal spending a few bucks to buy a new one. To me haste makes waste. Save the planet, keep stuff running, learn something new. Driving around town buying new stuff takes time and energy too. Plus 'working for the man' to pay for all this new waste also comes with a cost.

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Posted (edited)

= CD/DVD Drive Maintenance Tips =

Passing on random things i learned, maybe it keeps other old hardware alive. CD/DVD drives are often serviceable regardless what you read on the internet. As they are electrical and largely mechanical, there's quite a bit that can be fixed and maintained.

If the laser is burned out, it won't power up or a motor is dead, then maybe just recycle it, unless there's an obvious fixable defect (eg. broken solder, loose ribbon cable). To test open the tray, if the belt is malfunctioning you should still hear a motor power up even if the tray doesn't open. Then load a CD/DVD, you should hear motor/gears to accept the disc, another motor whirring to spin up the disc and the all-familiar laser power up sounds as it attempts to read data.

On most CD/DVD drives the belt can be changed from the open tray without removing or dismantling the drive. Cleaning the drive belt with water (spit), alcohol or glycerine is a temporary fix. The belt is likely hardened, stretched and/or worn out and this 'fix' will only be temporary. A belt that 'looks' okay can still be defective. Rubber functions best when it is less than 5-10 years old, manufacturers usually ensure there is at least one 'weak-link' part in their products - $$$.

Recommend using new rubber. I have combination hippy/grunge hair and use rubber no-slip hair eleastics, something like a package of 50 for only a few dollars. Alternatives include elastic bands (cheap, temp fix, good for troubleshooting), O-ring from local hardware store (good), belt salvaged from a donor drive (may be worn or wrong size) or online purchase (not personal preference).

As the rubber drive belt assemblies do not have a tensioner adjustment, ensure a replacement belt is similar circumference, generally a little smaller than the stretched old belt. Too loose won't work and too tight is hard on the motor.

If repair and/or maintenance is more involved, CD/DVD drives are easy to disassemble and appear similar across different manufacturers. Unplug the unit and remove from the computer. Use a paper clip to manually eject the CD/DVD tray then snap out the plastic front face. There are usually four screws to open the steel case. Remove the steel cover then lift the entire drive assembly from the steel case. These components only fit one way so photographic memory or backwards re-assembly isn't an issue.

While the drive is partially disassembled pushing/pulling the CD/DVD tray in/out will simulate loading/unloading and help determine how components are moving and functioning.

Totally removing the plastic sliding CD/DVD tray is useful for working on components hidden underneath. There's usually just a plastic tab to release it from a catch mechanism, then pull it right out. You may need to gently pry the plastic case apart for extra clearance, no big just be careful. There's no magic to 're-aligning' the teeth and gears during re-assembly, move the plastic gear slider out of the way, fully slide the disc tray all the way back into the drive along it's grooves without any teeth/gear resistance. Re-activating the motor during a power on test should grab the gears, properly align and eject the tray.

If possible removing pulleys and gears can help clean and lubricate underneath. Gears should be lightly lubricated, pulleys should be squeaky clean.

Depending on the drive's design, disconnecting the laser tilt assembly (screws or snap out) allows thorough cleaning of these pivot joints.

Vacuum dust, dry paint brush, air (blow or compressed) and damp cloth to bulk clean the case and other components.

Use a lightly oiled cotton tip to clean components that should be lubricated, basically anywhere there is old grease. The old grease in these drives doesn't last forever. Now the mechanisms won't be 'gummy' anymore and should operate smoothly with little resistance.

Don't buy the hype, you don't need special chemicals for every little task. I just use a drop of (new) engine oil from my oiler on a cotton tip. Maybe not ideal but cheap and readily available. The oil isn't going to 'eat' through the plastic in my lifetime. I've used this on many products over the years, such as plastic knitting machine and crank flashlight components, never a problem.

Avoid cleaning components that should be greasy with alcohol, you don't want them squeaky clean, you want them to remain slippery.

Cleaning old grease from the mechanism that pivots the laser assembly in/out of position is really important, it reduces load on the drive belt and motor, making it easier to open/close the tray. Also ensure these pivot joints are clean and move freely.

Use a lightly oiled cotton tip to clean and lubricate the railings that the laser assembly slides on. There may be quite a bit of dust, maybe hair, maybe black stuff or it may be dry (very bad). Gently slide the laser assembly back and forth a few times, avoid touching the laser, during this process to ensure everything is clean and to distribute lubricant. A smoothly sliding laser is critical when reading data from discs. Ensure other components, such as the worm gear, also move freely.

Use a cotton tip with a little alcohol (not dripping) to clean the laser, be gentle it wobbles. To be safe blot any excess alcohol from the cotton tip onto a clean cotton rag or similar before cleaning the laser lense. See the warning from @RainyShadow in post below.

The electric motors are typically sealed and do not require lubrication. If you come across a motor with exposed bearings, only if you think it needs lubrication, use less than one drop of oil on the tip of a sewing pin. Basically very little oil, otherwise it will leach inside and burn out the motor (old slot car maintenance tip).

When swapping and testing hardware don't boot a restrictive operating system like Windows XP, it may register a hardware change and cause re-activation issues. Just boot to the BIOS, a boot menu screen, a free or less restrictive operating system or any liveCD for testing purposes.

Just in case, use an undamaged CD/DVD you don't care about when testing.

Edited by Wunderbar98
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About the laser cleaning, inside are some mirrors that can get accidentally damaged if not careful.

They are glass (or similar) squares coated with very thin layer of paint, which actually makes them a mirror.

Touching the paint with alcohol or even blowing on it with moist breath will damage it.

 

And, if tearing a defective CD/DVD drive for useful parts, make sure to keep the lens. Stick them to your phone camera (a tiny drop of water works as glue) and you can shoot macro pics from extra-small distance :P

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Dozens of functioning CD drives are laying on the scrapyard here, being built-in some old computer cases. This will probably be a part to get in spare easily. Of course these times will be gone in some years, when the newer computers without any optical drives at all will be found on the scrapyard mostly...

I've found a workaround for printing with some newer printers on Windows 98, which applies to two old Xerox printers here: Xerox Workcentre 7545 (A3 color printer) and the Xerox Phaser 4600 (A4 black-and-white printer), which were built around 2011. They have the option to submit PDF files through the web interface. It needs JavaScript activated in the browser. Of course there were no drivers made officially for these printers for Windows 98 (too old at that time). But now they are useable!

 

Workcentre98.PNG

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My DVD drive tray stopped opening some time ago. It would get stuck in initial position after pushing the button. I opened it manually by pushing a needle in the designated hole, now it opens normally most of the time, sometimes it still gets stuck when trying to open it for the first time in the day. So far, it always opened on the second try.

In 12 years I've had this computer, DVD drive was used very rarely.

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Mentioned in a previous post by @Drugwash before the CD/DVD drive stuff, Starter v5.6.2.9 from CodeStuff was the version tested here in Windows 98 SE. It does indeed seem a good alternative to Process Explorer. Nice interface with easy access to startup items and running processes.

Thanks for the feedback @RainyShadow, especially the laser cleaning warning. Laser cleaning comments were elaborated in the CD/DVD Drive Maintenance Tips post above.

Thank-you for reporting your printing workaround @Gansangriff, nice. To me if Windows 98 could still run a modern printer and web browser, no reason it couldn't be used today as a sole operating system for everything.

The landfills and 'Eco stations' here are only accessible if you're dumping something, not to rummage. Shame so much good computing hardware gets wasted. Society will eventually pay, and already is, a big price for this destructive and wasteful behaviour. In remembrance of recent Earth Day please reduce, re-use and recycle.

My CD/DVD drive had the same symptoms @UCyborg and it ended up being the loading belt, responsible for ejecting the CD/DVD tray. I was also able to limp it along for a while too, worked on first or second try, until it stopped working altogether. On all but one of the drives inspected recently the drive belt is easily accessible from the front of the CD/DVD drive when the tray is open. It is easy to swap out with a reasonable facsimile and should then be 100%. If this easy fix doesn't work take the drive apart, remove grummy grease and lightly oil all the disc tray eject components.

Of the three CD/DVD drives i worked on last week only one couldn't fix, previously marked 'Query broken'. Not bad as my overall repair success ratio is probably less than 50% due to lack of proper tools, no formal training and most importantly no readily available parts department. The broken drive was stripped for parts and the laser assembly destructed to learn more. The laser lens is pretty cool indeed. The only parts kept were the two front 'micro-switches' and the LED bulb. I used to keep more parts from old equipment but my workbench area isn't too big, most of it never gets used despite good intentions or it isn't the right part for the next fix as there is no standard across manufacturers. Too bad i didn't have these little micro-switches a few weeks ago, would have used it as a replacement power switch for my tower. Oh well the old popcorn maker switch has been working perfectly.

Different topic, experimented on/off with C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM.INI entries for [vcache] for quite some time on this seasoned Windows 98 SE build. It has 384 MB RAM and runs very nice. Entries i've previously trialed inlcude:

MinFileCache=2048
MinFileCache=1024
MaxFileCache=98304

To be honest, without really knowing what i'm looking for, none of the entries appreciably affect system performance. So for the last few weeks i've removed all [vcache] entries. Maybe this is some type of voodoo, maybe modifying this settings works best on systems with more RAM, etc.

Similarly, experiments with various entries in C:\WINDOWS\CONFIG.SYS, exampled below, also provided no appreciable difference, running in DOS or Windows, and have mostly now been REMarked out:

FILES=40
REM BUFFERS=40
REM STACKS=9,128
REM STACKS=9,256
REM STACKS=0,0

If someone has expertise on this stuff feedback appreciated. For now my configurations have been simplified and everything runs well. I remember submitting patches to a developer before, the response was essentially as long as it works, so similarly maybe my current configuration is good enough.

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15 hours ago, Wunderbar98 said:

Different topic, experimented on/off with C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM.INI entries for [vcache] for quite some time on this seasoned Windows 98 SE build. It has 384 MB RAM and runs very nice. Entries i've previously trialed inlcude:

MinFileCache=2048
MinFileCache=1024
MaxFileCache=98304

To be honest, without really knowing what i'm looking for, none of the entries appreciably affect system performance. So for the last few weeks i've removed all [vcache] entries. Maybe this is some type of voodoo, maybe modifying this settings works best on systems with more RAM, etc.

Similarly, experiments with various entries in C:\WINDOWS\CONFIG.SYS, exampled below, also provided no appreciable difference, running in DOS or Windows, and have mostly now been REMarked out:

FILES=40
REM BUFFERS=40
REM STACKS=9,128
REM STACKS=9,256
REM STACKS=0,0

If someone has expertise on this stuff feedback appreciated. For now my configurations have been simplified and everything runs well. I remember submitting patches to a developer before, the response was essentially as long as it works, so similarly maybe my current configuration is good enough.

About vcache:

On 'low' memory systems (below 512 MB) there should be no need to set vcache entries * (unless there are stability problems!). In general above 512MB maxfilecache should be set. RLOEW gave as a rule of thumb: minimum 1/24 of total memory. He saw no need to set minfilecache.

* Edit: although Q181862 prescribes that below 512 MB maxfilecache should be set to 70% of RAM!

My experiments, reported in my thread SMARTDRIVE REVISITED.... https://msfn.org/board/topic/176877-smartdrive-revisited-sata-drives-in-msdos-compatibility-mode/page/2/ of December 8, 2018, suggests if minfilecache is NOT set, it's still there and set internally by Windows. The value depends on total memory (not fully lineair!). So minfilecache is only needed if maxfilecache is set BELOW the internal value if minfilecache.

About CONFIG.SYS:

FILES, BUFFERS and STACKS are MS-DOS-related, should not affect Windows performance. In case of MS-DOS windows, the number of FILES in each VM can be increased with SYSTEM.INI entry PerVMFiles. Also there is MinSPs to increase spare stack pages. See: http://www.mdgx.com/lastweek.htm 

Edited by deomsh
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Thank-you Deomsh for the detailed explanation and links, you've put a lot of work into this stuff. The MaxFileCache rules of thumb are definitely variable. I've read that between Windows 95 -> 98SE there were several improvements - don't know for sure. Thankfully i'm under 512 MB RAM and the system runs stable, so will continue to leave [vcache] empty. Subjective, my other Windows 98 machine with 1.5 GB RAM doesn't run as smooth or stable as this 384 MB system, despite RLOEW's patch and tweaking attempts.

In SYSTEM.INI [386Enh] this 384 MB system uses below, which doesn't need swap during regular use, seems okay.
ConservativeSwapfileUsage=1
MinPagingFileSize=131072
MaxPagingFileSize=131072

Regarding CONFIG.SYS for DOS, thanks for confirming. My DOS applications run fine so will leave this alone too. Never even heard of MinSPs and PerVMFiles. Thank-you the informative MDGx link (SYSTEM.INI TWEAKS), bookmarked. Still so much to learn and explore.

Regarding network speed, this system uses moderate speed DSL, tweaked via TCP Optimizer v3.0.8. A Windows XP system was recently set up (yes not Windows 98) and a popular network tweak utility was trialed, the name escapes me. Nonetheless the tweaks were negligible so i went back to TCP Optimizer and was painlessly able to get my usual connection speed.

There are some nice sites like below for practical download speed testing of various file sizes, no JavaScript required.
https://www.thinkbroadband.com/download

One old system has a hard drive that is failing SMART forever. I refuse to give it up until it totally dies. It's noisy and on startup has the 'click of death' for years. It is sometimes unable to spin up after sleep, problematic during runtime requiring file system checks. The BIOS and OS has recently been configured to prevent hard drive sleep. As long as the drive powers up at boot, almost always, now it never needs to wake from sleep during a session. A little more electricity but the system runs reliably. Will limp it along, no important data on the drive, have backup images of the OS'.

My Windows 98 registry is occasionally backed up to another hard drive on this dual boot system (two retro 6 GB hard drives). For anyone using dual boot Windows 98 and GNU/Linux, a command like 'cp -aux /mnt/sda1/WINDOWS/SYSBCKUP/rb*.cab /destination_directory' will preserve the date stamps of the backed up files. This makes it easy to determine the backup date if it becomes necessary to restore an older registry. As mentioned previously, a similar copy command can backup an entire Windows 98 install to other media or GNU/Linux partition, no fancy backup software needed.

Just a call out to any Windows 9x Geezers and wannabes, now is the time! If you've been daydreaming about this stuff for the last 20 years, no guarantee this goodness will still be waiting for you another 20 years down the road, just saying..

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6 hours ago, Wunderbar98 said:

Just a call out to any Windows 9x Geezers and wannabes, now is the time! If you've been daydreaming about this stuff for the last 20 years, no guarantee this goodness will still be waiting for you another 20 years down the road, just saying..

Very good notice: Market prices for Windows 98 computers are going up since some years! There is a scene now that restores Windows 98 computers and sells them for over 100 euros. Windows 98 did become an expensive oldtimer. Windows XP is close of being one, but currently it marks the low-price valley (the Pentium 4 single-core machines, to be precise). Now is the perfect time to get a proper Windows 98 machine from the scrap heap or for scrap prices online indeed!

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16 minutes ago, Gansangriff said:

Very good notice: Market prices for Windows 98 computers are going up since some years! There is a scene now that restores Windows 98 computers and sells them for over 100 euros. Windows 98 did become an expensive oldtimer. Windows XP is close of being one, but currently it marks the low-price valley (the Pentium 4 single-core machines, to be precise). Now is the perfect time to get a proper Windows 98 machine from the scrap heap or for scrap prices online indeed!

and lot of win9x comptaible working hw is tossed out since "old" and "toxic" since someone on internet said so increasing prices even more.

18 minutes ago, Gansangriff said:

Windows 98 did become an expensive oldtimer.

add word retro or vintage to anything makes it worth lot more:no:

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